Birds, bellringing, rainbows

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
Trip End Mar 15, 2007

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

After a super sleep in the country air, I had coffee on their lovely dock in the morning feeling the waves move the dock up and down and the sun warm on my back. Ahhhh. This is the life. Elaine went out to bell ring for service at the Old North Church on Salem Street. This was built in 1723 in the Georgian style following Christopher Wren. It was from the steeple of this rare and beautiful building that the two lanterns closely associated with Paul Revere were hung by Robert Newman, Church sexton, on April 18, 1775, igniting the War for Independence and leading to the birth of the American Nation.

Cally and I went out to the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary (part owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society) and looked for birds and other natural things. Among other things we saw on the trails and boardwalk around the ponds, marches, old mill site and dam were: eastern bluebirds (a first for Cally), mallard, mockingbird, red squirrel, dogwoods and other trees I don't think I can identify (some type of oak, elm, beech), little violets, painted turtles (though no snapping turtles which we were looking for), Canada geese (including a little gosling all covered in green algae from the pond), a knoll covered in glacial erratics. Lovely morning.

Back about 12:30 and headed out towards Boston as Cally has a bell ringing event at about 2:15. On the way I was introduced to some of the notable spots in Boston and we stopped at an REI where, alas, I could not find the trousers I am looking for. Managed to find a parking spot near the Church of the Advent ( built in 1844) on Brimmer Street where the bell ringing happens. The tower has a ring of 8 bells.

For the uninitiated, change ringing is a style of church bell ringing started in England around the end of the sixteenth century. Because of constraints imposed by the physics of swinging bells, tunes are not played. Instead, the bells are rung in ever changing patterns to a steady rhythm." Further information can be found at When we arrived, the morning service was just letting out and I was introduced to some of the staff, the lovely church cat and a coupe of the ringers: Diane and Laura. Later along came Mira, John, Mike (the visiting ringer in charge of practice), Dale, Elaine and James.

Church of the Advent is an Anglo Catholic congregation and the odor of incense wafts gently through the air as we make our way up the winding stairs into the steeple. The parish is undergoing a huge campaign to restore and renovate the church, which includes, in large measure, the tower. It is currently shrouded in scaffolding and green mesh. I am not sure how many stairs there are up the round stairwell to the tower, maybe 50 or so; however, the stairs got narrower and narrower as you go up. Although the masonry has been declared to be in good shape, the recent rains have clearly had an effect and there has been some leakage. A slightly wet and moldy smell greeted us as we climbed higher. The tower itself is about 15 feet by 15 feet and has, and an anteroom for those either not ringing or those waiting to ring.

The ringers set up the bells up and began practice. They seem to go into a bit of a daze and, staring straight ahead, sometimes moving their lips either counting or perhaps, praying (g), they ring a peal. It is really a language all to itself. I heard things like Plain Bob Major, Kent, Cambridge, surprise, dodging, hunting, double, single, splice, treble and tenor, lead, lead end, sally, tail, and other things which were a complete mystery to me. If I concentrated too hard on trying to follow the peal, I actually got a bit dizzy and could feel the tower shaking as if the bricks were shifting with each stroke.

About ringing, one web site said" "the activity within the ringing chamber is anything but, as the bell ringers not only ring the bells, but also try to remember the order in which they are supposed to be rung. Watching ... the bell team at work, it was amazing to see the concentration that the task took and the mix of men and women, old and young taking part in the ringing. Bell-ringing is really a hobby for anyone, no matter what their physical strength - all you need is enough muscle to push a child on a swing and a bit of concentration and hand-eye co-ordination to make it work."

All I know is that they rang a number of changes in the two or so hours we were there. They must have known when to end each one as, at some point they all wound up with their bells quiet at the same time and the end of a chime ringing through the tower. Actually, I think the conductor said something like "Trent" and the next time their arms moved, the chimes ended. Some pieces required 6 and some 8 ringers. The practice was also a training session for the ringers, all of whom are at various stages of development in their craft. Wikipedia tells me that "Periodically, for a special occasion (or sometimes just for fun) a group of ringers might attempt a peal (the most concise of which will last approximately three hours); if they succeed they occasionally mark the accomplishment with a peal board on the wall of the ringing chamber".

By the time we left, the rain had started up again and it absolutely pelted down. We got absolutely soaked as we went back to the car. Then we went on a bit of a tour of the lovely wooded sides of the Charles River. The weather was far too wet and dark to take photos; however, I saw things like the Longfellow, Harvard and Boston University Bridges.

I also saw a huge number of public and private rowing clubs and their boathouses. Rowing teams are fielded by Harvard/Radcliffe, Cambridge, Kennedy, Riverside and a Community rowing organization. Apparently there is a huge event called the Head Of The Charles Regatta held every October and is billed as the world's largest two-day rowing event. It was first held on October 16, 1965 and was established by the Cambridge Boat Club members with the audience of Harvard University sculling instructor. The latter proposed that a "head of the river" race similar in tradition to races held in his native England, be held on the Charles River. "Head" races, a class of regattas, are generally three miles long-boats race against each other and the clock, starting sequentially approximately fifteen seconds apart. Winners of each race receive the honorary title of "Head of the River" or, in this case, "Head Of The Charles." "

I think my sister Pat, who is a rower, would love to visit here as would a number of my other online friends. Apparently the love of bell ringing and the love of rowing go together as there are a number of people in Boston who do both.

We carried on driving until we came to a place called the Cordingly Dam across the Charles River at Newton. The Charles River in Newton was used as a source of power for the first time in 1688 when a sawmill was built at the upper falls. During the next ninety years other family-run operations were added. There was a grist mill at the lower falls on the Wellesley (then Dedham) side of the river by the mid-1690s and thirty years later a forge and trip-hammer were built on the Newton bank. These were followed by a variety of small mills until about 1790 when the first of the paper mills for which Lower Falls was later well known was built. By 1816 there were six at the upper (Cordingly) dam and three at the lower (Washington Street or Finlay) dam.

Currently there is a footbridge across the dam which is running full out; in fact, it is overflowing into the fish ladders. A web site of the Charles River Watershed notes that "The Cordingly Dam fish ladder, the last fishway upriver, which has been impassable for the past ten years, became fully operational in 2004 when DMF (Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries) installed new stop logs, which regulate water height, and baffles, which control water flow within the fishway. Because of these significant fish passage improvements, fish can now swim twenty river miles upriver."

The weather cleared up sufficiently to take some photos but then began to cloud over. We dropped Elaine back at her car and Cally and I continued on back to Foxboro. By that time the weather had deteriorated to a full blown thunder and rainstorm with rain coming down so hard that it was bouncing off the water with a vengeance. We were able to get some wonderful pictures, though, of the dark clouds against the green forest and a beautiful double rainbow. Wow. What a place.

After the rain let up we went back to the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary to see if we could see the snapping turtles. Alas, no snapping turtles, just a little painted turtle. I was able to take some memorable photos of cloud reflections in the water.

When I got home the three of us co-operated on a magnificent dinner of Cranberries & Mushrooms in Brandy Cream Sauce with asparagus and salad. It was a superb meal and afterwards we chatted for a while as we did the night before.

They lent me an amazing book on the geology of Massachusetts called "Roadside Geology of Massachusetts". A review of this book says "author James Skehan explains the geologic history of this New England state. Massachusetts is an intricate patchwork of many rock types whose structural details can bewilder the most experienced geologist. Most of the rock formations have been metamorphosed, folded, and faulted during the fragmentation and collision of plates of the earth's crust. These events spanned much of geologic time, from the Precambrian through the Mesozoic. Covering the state's rocky basement are youthful deposits of sand, gravel, and other sediments left by Pleistocene glaciers. Drawing on his long experience in the field and teaching at Boston College, Skehan has done an admirable job of presenting Massachusetts geology in an interesting and understandable fashion. His introduction gives an overview of geologic time, plate-tectonic history, and glaciers to set the stage for the rest of the book. I found the paleogeographic maps (showing the state's position in relation to shifting continents) especially helpful in understanding later chapters on regional and local geology. The text is organized logically as it proceeds from an overview of the state's bedrock terrenes to specific features that can be seen along the driving routes. The importance of glaciers in shaping the landscape, as on Cape Cod and in the Connecticut River valley, is given ample coverage, along with bedrock topics."

It is a book right up my alley and I read it far into the night.
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Kingsley on

Ah, I remember Cordingly Dam. Didn't it just have some masonry work done on it recently?

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